‘Mr. Mayor, You Got Your Second Chance, Now Pass It On’

Board of Education member Howard Gardner writes in a commentary that appeared first in the Connecticut Post Mayor Joe Ganim must extend his second-chance message to city students.

As a potential candidate in the 2015 mayoral race, I observed two amazing phenomena: how readily the minority community overlooked the egregious transgressions of a man who once betrayed public trust, and that a major segment of the population overlooked those atrocities by saying, “Everyone deserves a second chance.”

During the campaign, Joe Ganim became the ‘poster person’ of second chances. Ironically, those advocating for his second chance could all name a friend, relative or neighbor who was once incarcerated, and who could not even land a job at McDonald’s because of their past indiscretion. Nope.

No second chance for them. However, Joe Ganim gets to be mayor again.

I watched in awe as the ubiquitous Joe Ganim attended many social events in the most poverty-stricken areas of this city. The indefatigable candidate made events ranging from the P.T. Barnum Reunion, backyard parties, vigils for the slain and funerals to general church services.

Joe Ganim’s victory in last year’s elections was a direct result of the votes he garnered from a population characterized as minority and poor. They gave Joe Ganim his second chance.

Now that Ganim has won, it is time for him to pay forward his second chance and look out for this particular constituency.

How can he repay those who voted for him? It is a known fact that a good education constitutes a second–often times the only–chance for those born in poverty. Education is a transformative reality that moves individuals and whole groups to higher standards of living. I am a product of this process.

We yearn for this mayor to break the historical pattern of underfunding education in this city. This pattern, measured by various metrics, is an indictment of past administrations dating back to Joe Ganim’s first term in office.

For example, the city’s 26 percent contribution to the overall education budget is the lowest of all towns and cities in the state; and it appears the mayor will continue with this tradition.

He submitted his budget to the City Council without a single conversation with the Bridgeport Board of Education or with the superintendent of schools, Dr. Aresta Johnson.

This behavior reveals a degree of contempt toward the 21,000 children of this district. His action speaks quite clearly: You’re getting exactly what you got last year, regardless of the actual cost of providing services to the children of our district. This attitude from a mayor who knows or should know that:

The cost of running the school district increases automatically by approximately $5 million, and is driven by the built-in salary increments of past collective bargaining agreements, increases in the cost of insurance, legal fees and utilities.

The Bridgeport school district receives less financial resource, and spends less per pupil–$14,000–when compared to each of the state’s major cities–New Haven $18,045; Hartford $19,305; Stamford $18,045; and Waterbury $15,214.

The district 2017-18 budget calls for a minimum of $11.4 million more to cover increase in structural costs, to bring back essential services lost to last year’s budget reduction (kindergarten para-professionals and middle school guidance counselors), and increase demands for special education services. The governor’s budget would yield an additional $6.7 million to the school district. Assuming that the city will cover the teachers retirement costs transferred from the state, an additional $4.7 million over last year’s contribution from the city is required to close the gap.

If Governor Malloy’s budget comes out of legislative process in its current form, and the city realizes new taxes from local hospitals, the mayor should direct the lion’s share of the potential $15 million toward education. The city council and citizens of Bridgeport should join forces to ensure this, should the mayor fail to take the initiative.

Additionally, to position the school district to maintain the current level of service, the city needs to: completely assume all costs related to the teaching retirement fund if transferred from the state;

absorb all costs associated with school crossing guards, as is the case in other cities. Safety on public streets is the responsibility of municipal governments;

cover the costs of garbage collection for school buildings, as is the case in other cities; and

cover the costs of snow removal from school buildings, as is the case in other cities.

Without major investments and improvements to our school system, there will be no significant revitalization of the local economy. We have invested heavily (mostly with state funding) in new school buildings, and now it is time to invest in improving the learning processes within these buildings. A material commitment to our schools is the most impactful, far-reaching and long lasting benefit that this mayor can provide to our community.

Mayor Ganim is in a good position to express his greatest ‘thank you’ to the minority community of this city. He should do everything in his power to push for incremental funding to educate the 21,000 children of our district who are mostly black, brown and poor.

Mr. Mayor, you got your second chance. Now it is time to pass it on.



  1. On a side note, the BOE and Superintendent met with the City Council Budget & Appropriations Committee this evening.

    I found the meeting to be spirited and productive. I think both sides were able to express their concerns and point of view. The City Council members asked comprehensive, reasonable, and intelligent questions.

    However, I want to publicly state that the OPM, Nestor, has absolutely no idea what he is doing when it comes to the BOE. This budget repeatedly violated statutory requirements. The City budget he presented to the City Council is so flawed, I am deeply concerned that a budgetary disaster is in play.

    He took $3.3 million dollars from the BOE in violation of the state mandated Minimum Budget Requirement which means the City Budget he presented was out of balance by at least $3.3 million on day one.

    I was honestly shocked at his complete lack of knowledge regarding BOE state grants and ECS funding.

  2. Maria. For as long as the Minimum Budget Requirement has been in place, City and BOE representatives have disagreed on in-kind services. Was the BOE Finance Director present in this meeting? She can provide answers on grant income given it is not detailed in the BOE budget, something that JML has questioned.

    You said the city council members asked comprehensive, reasonable and intelligent questions? I suppose they are concerned, but such a compliment is a stretch.

    Did the city council members inquire about examples of measures to ‘do more with less’ to reduce operating costs? Examples could be food service, security and other non-certified positions. Or, would this impact the ability of the DTC to provide jobs to obedient democrats and their family? Substitute teachers are already provided through a contracted New Jersey temp service.

    As has been the case for many years, the BOE should expect City funding at the statutory minimum.

  3. Good questions, Howard Gardner. Now it would be helpful if the Mayor appeared in public for a “listening” session where both public and leader have a chance to question and answer, as appropriate. That would be a NEW BRIDGEPORT initiative and have no real expense, financially that is.

    Regarding the B&A meeting last night, I was present for three hours of Library and then BOE presentation, discussion and occasional disagreement. I respect Nestor Nkwo who directs the Office of Policy and Management. At budget time especially it is a difficult job, for anyone in this position, deciding what is funded (and why) and what is not. But I have listened to Director Nkwo and he has a reasonable sense of frugality, a respect for numbers, and a willingness to share the info and facts with an interested public, respectfully. That has not been the case previously with the Director who held the chair in the Finch administration previously.

    And that problem continues, it is obvious. The Library has certain issues outstanding with funds, and reserves, and positions getting funded from previous years. It seems as if certain computer records and other paper trails leave the City and the Library system out of accord. (I suggest that blame be assigned where the power resided before, but get over it as far as current matters.) The Library system has a very active Board, proud of its tradition, and is poised to execute significant development because they have been preparing for the process with plans, designs and funding preparation. They are to be applauded, I believe, and supported by all City departments. Voters showed Bill Finch about Library funding in the past decade. The Libraries serve and the public can see that.

    Mr. Nkwo was strong in declaring the facts and the numbers from his reference. Equally strong was Chief Financial Officer, Marlene Siegel who has overseen and directed the fiscal landscape for the school system from Paul Vallas and his initial five year plan, through the Fran Rabinowitz leadership period, with the change from Finch to Ganim2, but without any closer agreement between City Hall and the Schools on the funding story. And newly appointed Superintendent Aresta Johnson looked on along with most BOE members to lay out the point-and-counterpoint story of local-state-grant-federal funding that make up our School budget.

    One significant takeaway from the BOE session is that the City needs to incorporate a more transparent way of presenting all revenue, all spending expenses, and all personnel required to operate a school system.

    No one wishes to be a fiscal expert, least of all Council member Reverend Mary Lee who pleaded for a simpler way to lay out a story where BOE has enough funds for school operation, and leave turf issues about crossing guards, police officers and perhaps other issues out of contention.

    Of course, looming behind everything, especially with the State budget is what the Governor and legislature will decide and what that will do to the City and BOE budgets. Kind of unreal, but that is the nature of this annual dance. I hope that the public discussion will get the Mayor to stand up and talk about a line in the sand? Or anything substantive about school operations? What holds him back? And why has City Hall been quiet about what happened in the last month of Finch’s term with OPED and Port Authority funds?? Tranparency? Who’s washing the City Hall windows so the public can get a peek? Time will tell.

  4. Tom this is what I think, while Maria has made an impact in politics the past few years, her reference point is limited to the council members in that time period, therefore, I understand her optimism. We know, and were a part of, many budget hearings where asking questions was as natural as taking your next breathe. Not only were questions asked, they were expected to be considered and acted on or the Council members would be back demanding action and explanations. This meeting is probably one of the rare times this phenomena has occurred, sadly they don’t know the answers to the questions asked, and don’t know who to go to for help. They’re conditioned to be subservient; under Finch most of them craved his approval and attention and, wouldn’t risk losing it by exercising independence. While I don’t believe this body feels the same towards Ganim, they’re stuck in a rabbit hole with no clue as to how to get out.


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